Work-Life 9/17/2015

Speed Bumps And Golden Opportunities: Why Career Disasters Are Teachable Moments, Leslie Juvin-Acker


On the road of prosperity, we all hit speed bumps. These speed bumps can be translated to faux pas and other disasters. We don’t have to see speed pumps as destructive and costly, but rather as golden opportunities towards learning new skills and developing more understanding about our attitudes and actions that slowed us down in the first place.

I don’t know anybody, including myself, that hasn’t experienced a humbling moment in which we’ve made an ignorant or arrogant mistake. We get so caught up in the fast pace of work that we begin to speed wobble, hit a bump, and face plant into our own mess.  Leveled to the ground and picking the gravel of our own failures out of our thin skin, it’s hard to pick ourselves up and actually get back into the groove. Getting caught up in and prolonging that moment of licking our wounds costs us more time and opportunity than actually dusting ourselves off and fixing the problem. Here’s why:

Look Around: Slowing Down For Teachable Moments

Career disasters and other lesser mistakes can be thought of as speed bumps. Speed bumps are put out for our own safety. They tell us that there are other things around that are worth slowing down and taking a careful look at - and in this case, it’s examining our behaviors and attitudes that led up to our mistakes. They’re actually quite beneficial for our journey because, if we’re not mindful enough and rely heavily on autopilot, we could actually be missing some great learning opportunities.

Professor and physicist Robert J. Havighurst popularized this kind of thinking with the term “teachable moments”, meaning that learning a developmental skill at the right moment makes achieving a task possible. Professional mistakes can be seen as opportunities to make things right and we can. The question is How?

Having identified through a disaster that there is indeed something to be learned right now, we can go into making things right and correcting our path. Slowing things down gives us the ability to identify our weaknesses and transform them into strengths. From these situations we usually action upon one of two choices: A) sulk about the disaster and point fingers as to who did us wrong and remove any sense of personal responsibility about the crisis or B) look within for responsibility and insight and apply it into the situation in order to correct course. Fortunately, most people choose the option B and with good reason: it pays off.

Instant Decisions: Taking Responsibility For The Sake of The Future

While we’re licking our wounds, we can instantly decide to walk off the pain or sulk in it. Depending on the choice we make, that instantaneous decision can either jump start us or weigh us down. It’s not necessary to have a game plan right away - it’s just that act of reaching out and deciding that something, anything can be different and by goodness, better! In my experience of coaching pros who have made what appears to be some kind of irrevocable mistake, this powerful moment of taking responsibility for change can alone inspire creativity that seemingly comes out of nowhere.

Taking this giant leap into owning up to our mistakes and contributions to the disasters we co-create is just the first step of mitigating their residual effects. Mistakes are mistakes, but if left to fester, they grow into unwanted circumstances that infect other areas of relationships, self-image, and lost business opportunities (in layman's terms: nobody wants to work with a jerk and if they can help it, certainly not again). Reaching out to those that we’ve hurt or seriously inconvenienced and taking the first big step of owning up to our attitudes and behaviors is a part of that process of making things right and moving things forward in a positive direction.

Adversities Are Golden Opportunities in Disguise

Having slowed down during a teachable moment in addition to having taken ownership of and communicated our missteps, we are now free to transform a calamity into a golden opportunity. Adversities are golden opportunities in disguise.

Golden opportunities allow us to remember what it is we stand for and what we may have forgotten in the high-speed demand of work. Through golden opportunities we choose to say now, “I’ve forgotten some of my core values and those we share and because of that we’re here now. I can’t change the past, but together, you and I can certainly change the outcome of this situation now.”

Disasters can be confusing times, but they don’t have to snowball into even more stressful situations. So, the next time you find yourself in a mess, instead of instinctively developing a faster speed, slow down, own the moment, and focus on building a brighter path ahead. One that’s paved in gold. Golden opportunities, that is.

Coach Leslie’s Questions To Ask Ourselves

1.    When reflecting on a career disaster, what were the signals that warned me to slow down and reconsider my actions?

2.    What were the key behaviors or attitudes that negatively influenced this present situation? How can I change or eliminate them for the future?

3.    Where can I take ownership in this situation? Who needs to hear this in order to move forward?

4.    Realizing that I’ve been gifted the golden opportunity of a teachable moment, what can I learn in order to overcome adversity?